The Weekend’s Viewing: Atlantis is family fun with something for everyone

Atlantis, Sat, BBC1 // The Ginge, the Geordie  and the Geek, Sun, BBC2

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The Independent Culture

I’ve got a theory about the BBC’s new primetime  fantasy drama Atlantis, which aired its first episode on Saturday – bear with me. I think Atlantis is actually an extended, Ancient Greece-set metaphor for the trials and tribulations of a first term at university. It was our hero Jason’s horrible necklace that gave it away. When we first met Jason in the present day, he was standing on the deck of a surface-level submarine, explaining to the captain that the leather thong around his neck was given to him by his missing father – it looked more like something you’d pick up backpacking in Thailand. Jason said he must journey  into the deep to find his father and, moments later, he  was washed up on the mythical lost city of Atlantis, with only said “gap yah” jewellery to set off his birthday suit,  and no memory of how he got there. Student hijinks, eh?

Luckily, the Oracle (Juliet Stevenson) was on hand to offer some much-needed exposition/comfort for his hangover. “Your father took you to the other world when you were still  a baby... You have many enemies here in Atlantis... Jason, only you can bring an end to the people’s fear and suffering.”

This was good news for Jason, because like many an  undergrad newly returned from his gap year, he was still unsure what to do with his life. Even his preordained battle with a deadly Minotaur was a welcome chance to pick up some transferable skills: “It’s as if for the first time in my life I feel absolutely certain of what I must do.” He’s got new flatmates too: nerdy boffin Pythagoras and party animal Hercules (Mark Addy from the Tesco ads), who often oversleeps after one too many at the local tavern/student union bar. The three soon became fast friends and promised to help one another out  in a scrape. “Maybe you could talk about triangles, Pythagoras, and bore the Minotaur to death?”  suggested Hercules.

Anyway, that’s my University of Atlantis theory. You needn’t buy into it to enjoy this family fun, which truly had something for everyone. If some of the gags were a bit weak, that only added to the general sense of Saturday tea-time nostalgia. It was Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts meets Games of Thrones (minus the rude bits) with a touch of  The Chronicles of Narnia thrown in. Thanks for the treat, BBC, and it’s not even Christmas yet!

Sunday night’s new sketch show The Ginge,  the Geordie and the Geek was a blast from  the more recent past. That joke about James Blunt’s terrible singing, for instance, was soooo 2005, but there’s no denying it still gets a laugh (sorry, James). Comedy trio Graeme Rooney (Ginge), Paul Charlton (Geordie) and Kevin O’Loughlin (Geek) were discovered at the Edinburgh Festival, and evidently have their material well honed through live experience. New sketch shows often suffer with scenes that linger on long past the punch line,  but nothing outstayed its welcome on Sunday.

Several quick-fire, one-laugh sketches were interspersed with material that could justify a longer running time. The 1950s spies trying to infiltrate “The Females”, for instance, is the kind of thing Armstrong and Miller used to do, but the three Gs made it their own. Like excitable kids let loose in the BBC costume department, they also made much use  of furry animal suits: there was the victim reconciliation  between Mr Pig and Mr Wolf and a recurring sketch about thuggish seagulls that got better with each repetition.

The Fast Show was meant to be the meta-sketch show  to end all sketch shows, and that broadcast its last episode in 1997, so what does that make this? Old-fashioned? Absolutely. Uncool? Probably. But will it make you laugh? Oh, yes.